Monday, May 31 marks a key day in TV history: the 20th anniversary of "Seinfeld."
THE DEAL: Technically speaking, the first episode aired the previous July as a one-shot called "The Seinfeld Chronicles." Compared to what would come, the material was still raw: There as no Elaine character, and Kramer was inexplicably named "Kessler."
The show was not picked up for the fall. But Rick Ludwin, a key NBC exec, liked it and ordered four future episodes to be filmed just in case.
So let's fast-forward to May 31, 1990: Ludwin's persistence resulted in the network airing those four episodes as an early-summer series, Thursday nights at 9:30. But the title was changed to "Seinfeld," because NBC didn't want audiences to confuse it with ABC's recent short-lived flop "The Marshall Chronicles." This time, there would be enough interest, and "Seinfeld" would finally be picked up as a regular series in January 1991 and go on to become one of TV's classic shows.
THE EPISODE: "The Stakeout," written by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, was originally planned as the third episode. NBC decided to move it up because it better explained the back story between Jerry and his ex-girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
As we would get to know, they've decided they can still be friends. But the friendship is strained when they go to a birthday party, where Jerry finds himself unable to flirt with an attractive woman attorney.
Jerry wasn't able to get the woman's name, but he did remember the name of her firm (Sagman, Bennett, Robbins, Oppenheim and Taft; the names were David's college friends). So he and George (Jason Alexander) stake out her building pretending that they're visiting an importer-exporter who works there named Art Vandelay (a name that would surface in several future episodes).
We also meet Jerry's parents - except Morty is played by Phil Bruns, not Barney Martin, who took over in the second season because David wanted someone "crankier."
CAN YOU SEE IT ON TV? Alas, the stations that program "Seinfeld" reruns apparently have no sense of this historic occasion. Ch. 5 aired "The Stakeout" last Friday, rather than Monday. You'll have to catch the episode on DVD or view a snippet on YouTube or wait until it cycles around again.
Said Newsday's Ben Kubasik: " 'Seinfeld's' gentle humor is easy to take. Unlike other current comedians, such as Andrew Dice Clay or Sam Kinison, Seinfeld isn't angry: He's more awed by the wonder of it all."
Another critic was less kind. "Lacking much in the way of attitude, the show seems obsolete and irrelevant," wrote USA Today's Matt Roush (now TV Guide's chief critic). "What it boils down to is that Seinfeld is a mayonnaise clown in the world that requires a little horseradish."